Adult age differences in learning and decision making related to differences in sensitivity to different types of reward

Neuroscientific research on decision making and aging has focused almost exclusively on monetary incentives. Despite evidence for intact processing of and motivation by monetary gains in old age, preserved function does not extend to learning-based decision making where these incentives must be applied. Here older adults learn more slowly from monetary gains and losses compared to younger adults. These age deficits in learning have been linked to the structure and function of frontostriatal brain circuits, and some studies suggest that enhancement of this neural network via pharmacological increases in dopamine levels selectively improves reward learning in older adults. Although age differences in incentive motivation have been suggested to be due to motivation to maximize well-being (i.e., based on socioemotional selectivity theory), almost no studies have examined age differences in social incentive processing. An interesting possibility is that social incentives may provide a non-pharmaceutical and non-invasive enhancement of frontostriatal networks thus improving learning in old age. The goal of the proposed pilot studies is to examine adult age differences in behavioral and neural sensitivity to social and monetary incentives and examine the behavioral and neural effects of these incentives on learning-based decision making. For the proposed studies we have developed cognitive tasks that will investigate subjective emotional responses during anticipation and receipt of social and monetary incentives (Aim 1), neural sensitivity to the anticipation and receipt of social and monetary incentives (Aim 2), and learning from probabilistic social and monetary outcomes during decision making (Aim 3). One behavioral pilot study (Study 1) and one behavioral and neuroimaging pilot study (Study 2) will be conducted.

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